Dundalk hoping for big second leg turnaround as BATE head to Ireland with one goal advantage
BATE Borisov 1 Dundalk 0
Eventually the relentless pressure told and although Dundalk will be disappointed with the manner in how they conceded the only goal of the game, they will take BATE Borisov back to Ireland with everything still to play for.
For 70 minutes of tonight’s Champions League qualifier first leg in Belarus, Dundalk managed to keep BATE out but one lapse in concentration cost them dearly.
Last year, the League of Ireland champions left the same venue with the same one-goal deficit but this time, they couldn’t snatch a crucial away goal. However, in truth, they will be happy to have kept the damage to a minimum.
BATE dominated proceedings but grew more and more frustrated as the game wore on and they were unable to find a way through the Dundalk wall.
That was until Sean Gannon’s sloppy error allowed Alexander Hleb to play substitute Mikhail Gordeichuk through and give his side a slender lead ahead of the second leg in Tallaght on Tuesday.
Being forced to move the game from Oriel Park due to UEFA restrictions is an obvious frustration for Dundalk but with their Champions League hopes still very much alive, they will be confident of a big turnout at their temporary Dublin home.
The Lilywhites had their ‘keeper Gary Rogers to thank for keeping them in the tie as he pulled off a string of fine saves.
As much as Dundalk rode their luck, BATE were extremely lucky to finish the game with 11 players after Maksim Zhavnerchik caught Dundalk skipper Stephen O’Donnell with a nasty elbow after half an hour.
Stephen Kenny’s side were on the end of a similarly harsh call from the officials last year when BATE skipper Vitali Rodionov wasn’t shown a red card for an apparent headbutt on Dane Massey.
The Ukrainian referee booked Rodionov for his reckless challenge last night but, on reflection, he may well have felt that the card he produced should have been a different colour.
For all of the Belarusians’ dominance in the first half, it was the visitors who had the best chance and Robbie Benson should have done better with a gilt-edged chance just after the half hour mark.
BATE were always likely to dominate possession but Kenny will have been frustrated by his side’s inability to keep the ball in the rare times that they managed to get it.
Time and time again passes went astray but that was largely down to the massive step up in opposition. BATE are regulars in the group stages of the Champions League and their superior technical ability was obvious.
In last year’s 2-1 defeat away from home, the feeling was that BATE had underestimated Dundalk but that was certainly not the case last night as they set about putting the tie to bed early on.
Ihar Stasevich was Dundalk’s chief tormentor down the left flank and he gave Gannon a torrid time throughout before the defender made the uncharacteristic error.
Stasevich’s dipping shot that went narrowly over the crossbar after just three minutes was a sign of things to come but Dundalk managed to get to the break with the game still scoreless.
Paddy Barrett continued to deputise for the injured Brian Gartland and the centre-half’s nerves were evident early on as he was caught in possession a couple of times before he crashed the ball back off his own crossbar.
O’Donnell had already made a crucial last-ditch tackle on Rodionov but Dundalk were even more relieved to see the ball bounce back off the bar when Barrett attempted to cut out Zhavnerchik’s dangerous cross after 18 minutes.
Dundalk however might have taken the lead after half an hour when they broke well down the left wing. Daryl Horgan cleverly cut the ball back for Benson who saw his shot unconvincingly palmed away by Veremko in the BATE goal.
Seven minutes later, Stasevich again beat Gannon far too easily and he should have done better with a shot that went straight at the grateful Rogers.
Dundalk continued to withstand the siege and just like his skipper had done earlier in the half, Massey made a crucial intervention to deny what looked like a certain BATE goal at the back post.
Kenny did his best to ease the pressure by bringing on the more defensive-minded pair Chris Shields and John Mountney at the break but Rogers again had to make three saves inside the opening eight minutes of the second half.
All three saves were comfortable enough for the Dundalk shot-stopper but the warning signs kept coming and it was unlikely that Dundalk were going to be able to keep the hosts out for the remainder of the game.
Rogers almost undid all of his earlier good work by gifting BATE an opener after a mix-up with Andy Boyle.
The referee however awarded a soft free kick against Rodionov – much to the relief of the Lilywhites supporters that had made the long trip to Belarus.
BATE introduced Gordeichuk after 67 minutes and the man who scored for Belarus against Ireland at the end of May almost repeated the trick with his first touch but his shot was deflected wide.
Three minutes later, he made no mistake. A weary-looking Gannon sloppily gave the ball away to Hleb and the former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder played Gordeichuk through on goal and he beat Rogers at his near post.
Dundalk could hardly have had any complaints about conceding a goal but it was certainly one that should have been avoided. Rogers came to Dundalk’s rescue again when he kept out Stasevich’s 83rd-minute drive and from the resulting corner Kaspars Dubra thumped a header back off the bar.
There was still time left for Rogers to keep out another Stasevich shot as the visitors desperately tried to hold on.
The Dundalk players were out on their feet at the final whistle and although they were beaten on the night, the tie is still very much alive.
BATE Borisov – Veremko; Zhavnerchik (Hleb 59), Dubra, Polyakov, Pikk; Rios, Karnitski, Kendysh, Stasevich; Ivanic (Gordeichuk 68), Rodionov (c).
Dundalk – Rogers; Gannon, Boyle, Barrett, Massey; O’Donnell (c); Benson (Mountney h/t), McEleney (Shields h/t), Finn, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 77).
REF – Y Aranovskiy (UKR)